Moisture stirred in Chance’s lungs and hung from his fur. The familiar aroma of the foliage and clay earth triggered fear, sadness and hunger. Sounds of the jungle permeated the air: birds chirped, leaves rustled and insects buzzed with movement. The humidity made every breath heavy and thick.
He salivated as he stared out from under the cover of the fronds of a large bush. A woman stood twenty feet away from him, hanging her laundry on a clothesline. Long dark hair hung around her shoulders and she hummed as she worked. Her energy was a beacon to him and pulled him closer, his feet moving him across the overgrown grass. All he could think about was absorbing her power.
The sounds from the birds, insects and monkeys all quieted. He paused, an arm’s length away from her. Her melodic song stopped and she turned around. Ana’s emerald eyes blinked at him and she smiled.
“Where have you been?”
Chance tried to respond but couldn’t speak. He wanted to say he loved her and that he’d missed her, but instead, his teeth parted, freeing a deep growl from his chest. His body kept moving forward. He wanted to stop—it was only Ana. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself.
Claws slashed out and connected with her soft, pink skin. Red blood streaked across her body. Despite the wound, she continued to smile at him. Why wasn’t she protecting herself? He wanted to yell at her, to tell her to run away, but he couldn’t. He was in the conductor’s seat of a runaway train—and he was the train. Positioned to hurt and destroy what was in his path.
“I love you.”
He looked up, expecting to gaze into Ana’s innocent eyes, but instead found the blank stare of Balam’s dead wife.
Chance sat straight up in bed, his heart thundering in his chest. His covers, wet with sweat, tumbled into his lap. He dropped his head into his hands and gasped for air.
It was just a dream, he tried telling himself. It wasn’t real. But the fear was real and it persisted at his soul. Every waking moment filled with memories, echoed with evil.
No light came in through the window of his room and the clock on the nightstand said that it was five o’clock. He knew from experience he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, so he collapsed backward onto his pillow and stared at the gray ceiling. He’d just have to lie around, stuck in his own head until everyone else woke up.
His thoughts turned to the conversation he’d had with Batukhan nearly twenty-four hours ago and pinched his eyes shut. It was all he’d been thinking about since then. How was he supposed to feel about Batukhan leaving to find Mac, his nomadic shapeshifter friend? Chance had attacked him—bludgeoned him with a lit branch, all while under the powerful influence of another shifter’s voice. This sickness had poisoned him, swaying him to behave in uncharacteristic ways. Made him hunger for power. Would Mac forgive him? A more important question was branded in his mind—can I forgive myself?
Chance rubbed his eyes, which didn’t help the dull ache that seemed to be permanently housed there now. He needed more sleep. If self-loathing could leave its mark, it certainly had.
Calm yourself. Breathe deep and relax. Niyol’s melodic voice soothed his thoughts and his breathing slowed. At least he still had his grandfather’s internal guidance. Chance didn’t miss the memories or echo from Nastas, Markus and the nameless man who’d poisoned all of their lives. Mac had helped push some of the voices away and with much effort and struggle, Ana had removed the poisonous energy from his soul. Although it was a relief not to have them arguing and pushing him around anymore, the damage had been done.
That was ridiculous though. He was a strong young man with the kind of abilities people could only imagine and here he was, having panic attacks between the covers of his bed. He should be a pillar of strength for Ana. Be the person she fell in love with. The person she thought she was engaged to.
He didn’t want her to see him like this: paranoid and frightened of the ghosts in his head. But there was no one who could soothe him like she could. Her touch was the healing balm his heart needed. Chance lifted the gray comforter and sat up in bed. The cool air touched his bare chest, drying the sweat on his skin. The pajama bottoms he’d borrowed from Derek kept his legs warm as he crept out of Ryan’s abandoned room. He moved lightly up the steps, careful not to make noise while he emerged on the main level of Lifen’s home.
He passed by the rice paper doors to the meditation room and walked to the end of the hallway. Chance placed his hand on Ana’s doorknob and glanced at Lifen’s door before letting himself in. Although it was still dark, he could see Ana’s shape beneath the covers of her bed. He latched the door, lifted the edge of her comforter and joined her beneath the sheets.
She adjusted in her sleep and mumbled something he couldn’t understand. Warmth radiated from her body and he slipped his arm around her waist while nuzzling his face against her back. As soon as he came into contact with her, his angst was pacified. Chance closed his eyes and let the rise and fall of her ribcage carry him off to sleep.
Back where he belonged, by her side. Home.